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Japanese Cat Names

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Japanese cat names are an interesting window onto the culture. Are you looking for a Japanese name for your kitten?  Or maybe you've seen a famous cat or two in manga or anime and are curious about what sort of names Japanese people choose for their feline friends.  Whatever the basis for your curiosity, I'll do my best to share what I've learned as an animal lover living in Japan since 1997.  I've enlisted the help of Japanese friends in this pursuit, to be sure that my understanding squares with theirs, and ended up learning as well as confirming a lot in the process!

Let's look at some names for male and female cats. More than just giving a name with a translation,  I want to pass along some related information that will give you a better idea of naming conventions in Japan so that if you're looking for a name, you'll have more confidence in going with your inspiration and choosing something whether it's on a list or not.  

I also want to introduce you to katakana, the relatively simple Japanese syllabary that's most often used to write pet names.  And I'll mention a point that's often overlooked, natural intonation so that when you call to your cat, it sounds pretty much the same as it would if the owner were a native speaker.  We'll also take a look at an important aspect of names in general in Japan, suffixes that add warmth and familiarity when used.


Foreign Pet Names-It Goes Both Ways

So let's dive in. First off, it's worth noting that In Japan, pet owners sometimes choose a western name over a Japanese one for the same reason you might be considering something Japanese-it's a novel way to express your interest in a culture outside your own and to be a bit different.

And when Japanese people choose a western name for a pet, it's often a person's name.  A Japanese friend once had a dog named John, for example.  I never asked her why she it, but I'd bet she liked an actor or singer by that name.  The most famous Japanese cat with a western name is probably Michael of 'What's Michael?' fame. The manga was such a hit that it spawned a long running animated TV series in the 80's. 

Japanese people sometimes choose the names of Japanese celebrities for their pets as well.  So if there's a Japanese actor or musician you like, you might consider using a version of their name.  Ichiro isn't likely to be offended if you're a baseball fan and name your cat after him!

Speaking of stars, Leo the Lion isn't just a constellation, he's also one one reason why there are so many cats in Japan with the name, pronounced 'Lay-Oh.'

In similar fashion, the Japanese word for tiger, Tora, works quite well as a name because it's short and it's no stretch to imagine most cats as mini tigers, especially if they have stripes. Most cat names in Japan seem to be two syllables, with some three-syllable monikers in the mix.  Keeping it short and sweet is a good angle to approach things from, it seems.


Japanese Cat Names from Flowers and Plants

Flowers and plants are another source of inspiration. Japanese girls are often named after flowers and cats are, too. The Japanese word for flower is hana, and Hana is a very popular name for female cats. 

You might well already know some Japanese plant names like Sakura(cherry) and Ume(plum).  Momo(peach) and Sakura are also among the most popular female cat names in Japan.  But don't stop there-other flowers such as Kiku(chrysanthemum) are also prime candidates! Mums have a rich, regal history in Japan and are associated with the Imperial family.

I thought up some names of fruits in Japanese and ran them by some Japanese friends, wondering if they would work as cat names. These are the ones that passed muster as cute, easy to say possibilities for female cats-Ichigo(strawberry), Suika(watermelon), Anzu(apricot), and Mikan(mandarin orange.) 

Think of various aspects of these names and others. If for example, you got your cat in summer or she was born then or just strikes you as having a summery personality, referring to her as the Japanese word for watermelon might hit just the right note.

Another fruit name that got the thumb's up from Japanese friends was Ringo(apple), but I nixed it because though it's indeed catchy, you might be mistaken for a die-hard Beatles fan with that one, and could soon get fed up with explaining the real meaning behind the choice!


Use Your Cat's Appearance as Inspiration

Another fertile filed to plow when it comes to names is your cat's coloring.  In Japan, the words for black(kuro) and white(shiro) are both standard choices for cats and dogs of both sexes.

If you happen to have a calico cat, you might consider the name Mi-ke. I added the hyphen to try and differentiate it from the common western name Mike, as it's pronounced Mee-kay.  It literally means 'three-hair' and refers to the three colors of fur that calicoes sport. Japanese calicoes are usually predominantly white along with two other colors, and are a very popular breed in Japan and abroad. Many Japanese cat owners in fact name their calico Mi-ke, just as countless western dog lovers over the decades have named their pooches Spot.

Is your cat small?  Then maybe something like 'Mame(pronounced (Mah-may) would be just right.  Mame means bean in Japanese, and has a cute, diminutive sound to it.  You might know this word already, as it's part of the word for soy beans, edamame(literally, branch bean). In a similar way, the name Mikan mentioned above has an endearing connotation, as it brings to mind something small and round.

Speaking of beans, the most popular female cat name in Japan taken from something edible might be 'Azuki.'  Azuki is a type of bean that's often used in Japanese cuisine, especially in making traditional sweets.  The notion of eating beans in sweets seems odd to many westerners, but take my word for it, bean based sweets are delicious and you shouldn't come to Japan without trying some!  

So naming your female cat Azuki, pronounced 'Ah-zu-key, would be a great choice if you're looking for a name that is 'authentic' in the sense that Japanese cat owners favor it.  And as with Mame, being a type of bean it carries with it the same cute, petite connotation. Since azuki beans are reddish brown, this name would work especially well if your cat has similar coloring. Do a net search for 'azuki' and you'll find photos of this culinary staple.


Traditional Seafood and Sweet Names Add a Wealth of Possibilities

All this talk about food is getting me hungry, so let's brainstorm with some words from Japanese cuisine that might strike your fancy.

Wasabi anyone?  How about Matcha(green tea)? Or Toro(fatty tuna, a delicacy)?  Then there's Wakame(a variety of seaweed), Ikura(salmon eggs), Saba(mackerel), Awabi(abalone), and the list goes on. In a similar way, many Japanese dog and cat owners choose names like 'Latte' and Mocha' these days. I think that names taken from seafood cuisine can be especially good fits with cat names, since they seem to enjoy such delicacies at least as much as we do!

I have a sweet tooth, so I'm partial to Mochi(pounded rice cake) sweets of all kinds. I also have a weakness for Dango(usually 3-4 small balls of mochi pounded rice on a stick).  We could go on and on brainstorming with foods, and I encourage you to have some fun with this. But with foods and with this process in general, take care not to get too esoteric, because you might well come to regret choosing a name that only you and a friend or two can remember and understand.

Japanese culture is finely tuned to the seasons and the natural world, and the cuisine reflects that.  You'll see ample evidence of this focus on nature in names like Sora, the word for sky. It's a staple on recent ranking lists for popular Japanese cat names and can be used for both males and females.  Note that the 'r' in sora is pronounced a bit differently than in English.


Famous Japanese Cats

I've already mentioned a famous cat, Michael, though he only exists in the world of comics and animation.  Ask about the most famous Japanese cat who's ever lived, and the name Tama is bound to come up. Perhaps because she gained fame so recently. In any case, she was certainly a phenomenon!  

Tama was a female calico who died in 2015 after going viral as the station master at Kishi Station in western Japan.  She gained an international following and was responsible for a huge surge in tourism to the area.  The name Tama is a cat name with a long history in Japan, much as the name Socks is thought of as a traditional cat name in some English speaking countries.  As a name it doesn't carry any special meaning, its popularity is mainly due to the way it sounds-short, easy to say and somehow endearing.

Sometimes a good name can boil down simply that.  And having such a common name certainly never held Tama back!  If anything, it made her even more memorable.  Of course the little station master's cap she wore at a jaunty angle also made her hard to forget!

If you happen to be a fan of the perennially popular manga Sazae-san about a family and their foibles that was first published in the 40's, you'll also know that the family's male cat was called Tama.  

And Tama was also the name chosen by the company that produces a series of cat themed furoshiki Japanese fabric cloths that I feature in my shop, as well.  This particular Tama is quite active with an eye for scenic spots, including the charming traditional buildings accented by cherry blossoms in full bloom on the furoshiki cloth below:


Other Key Cultural Notes

Now let's move to some general points about Japanese cat names.  First, intonation for names is basically flat. So all syllables get similar stress. It's common for native English speakers to pronounce the names of Japanese people as well as pets as they would in English, which often results in unnatural pronunciation. This often happens with three syllable words, as the middle syllable often gets stressed when it shouldn't get such special attention.  I have a Japanese friend named Yumiko who lives in the states, for example, who is often called 'Yu-MI-ko with the middle part stressed.  Similarly, Yukiko is known as 'Yu-KI-ko.'  

This tendency doesn't manifest much in two syllable words, and since most common pet names are short, like Tama, they end up being pronounced pretty much as they should be, with equal stress given to both syllables. But others, like Azuki that we looked at above, can become 'Ah-ZU-ki' if you're not aware of this aspect of Japanese language.

Then there's the custom of adding suffixes to names.  This is a key point to keep in mind, as it might steer you toward choosing one cat name over another, depending on how the name sounds in this form.

If you're an anime or manga fan, you're probably already well aware of the propensity to add 'chan' and 'kun' to the end of names.  Kun is basically used for boys and men, and like chan, conveys a familiarity and warmth.  Chan can be used for young boys as well as for girls and women. Adults can use these honorific suffixes with friends to show affection, though it's rude to use these suffixes to address a superior.  The first three letters of 'chan' are pronounced as in the name of the Cuban dance known as the Cha-Cha.

When we consider pet names, chan is the one to focus on, because it covers both sexes when it comes to animals.  And since pets are more often than not seen as cute and endearing, it's very natural to add chan to the end of their names. So, Sora becomes Sora-chan.  Tama is Tama-chan.  Presto! What was a cute name to start with gets even more so. 

Some names lend themselves better to the 'chan' treatment, in terms of how easily it all rolls off your tongue. Take for instance the sweets mochi and dango I mentioned above as possibilities.  'Mochi-chan'  is a bit harder to say than 'dango-chan' so based strictly on that, the latter would win out.

One thing to keep in mind with this-chan is usually something you use to refer to someone else's child or pet, not your own.  It's not rude or inappropriate to use it for your own pet, but it's most often a way for others to express a sense of affection and closeness for someone outside their own immediate family. So if you choose a Japanese name for your cat, informing those around you of this 'chan' add-on will pay dividends!

Finally, I'd like to make a list of all the names we've covered here, includes my brainstorms and some cat names that are among the most popular in Japan. When there's a meaning, I'll include that, and I'll also add the name as it's written in the katakana alphabet.  Often there is a kanji character for a name, but even then, the katakana is preferred when its used as a pet's name.  I've included the kanji characters mainly to illustrate just how simple the katakana is by comparison!

So if you have an interest in what a name looks like when written, don't make it unnecessarily hard by considering kanji characters.  Katakana characters are not only simple in their minimal number of angular strokes, but they're also preferred according to convention in this context. Knowing a bit more about Japanese cat names, including not only their meanings but how they're used can be a great way to delve more deeply into the culture in general.  If you have any questions related to this topic, please leave a comment!


Name
Katakana/Kanji
sex

meaning/reference
Ichiro
イチロー
M

Baseball player
Tora
トラ          虎
M/F

tiger
Hana
ハナ          花
F

flower
Sakura
サクラ      桜
F

cherry, cherry blossom
Ume
ウメ          梅
F

plum, plum blossom
Momo
モモ     桃F
peach, peach blossom
Ichigoイチゴ       苺F
strawberry
Suikaスイカ     西瓜F
watermelon
Anzuアンズ F
apricot
Mikan
ミカン F
mandarin orange
Kuro
クロ         黒M/F
black
Shiroシロ         白M/F
white
Mi-keミケ        三毛M/F
calico
Mameマメ        豆M/F
bean
Wasabiワサビ M/F
Japanese horseradish
Matchaマッチャ 抹茶M/F

Japanese green tea
ToroトロM/F
high grade cut of tuna
IkuraイクラM/Fsalmon eggs
Sabaサバ       鯖M/Fmackerel
Wakameワカメ    若布M/F
seaweed
Awabiアワビ 
M/F
abalone
Mochiモチ          餅M/F
pounded rice cakes
Dangoダンゴ    団子M/F
skewered pounded rice cakes
Soraソラ         空M/F
sky
TamaタマM/F
------
Kikuキク         菊F
chrysanthemum

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